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Does democracy stop at the doorstep of the women’s hostel?

March 24, 2012

This appeal comes to us via MAYA JOHN

Friends,

Since January of 2012, residents of Delhi University’s largest postgraduate women’s hostel, University Hostel for Women (UHW) have been waging a battle against outright suppression of their democratic rights by, both, their hostel authorities and the University’s Proctorial Committee. Since the hostel’s Chairperson is also the Proctor of the University, the Proctorial Committee has been intervening in the matter, not as a neutral party, but in complete connivance with the hostel authorities. There are two issues which are central to the ongoing struggle of the women students, namely, the imposition of a union constitution by the authorities, and the existence of archaic and conservative rules in the hostel.

In the process of their struggle, the women hostellers have been individually victimized to a ridiculous extent by the hostel Provost, Professor Ashum Gupta and the Warden, Dr. Tanuja Agarwala. The Warden and Provost have been sending letters to departments, making misleading phone calls to parents, denying extension of stay to M.Phil researchers in the hostel, verbally threatening their MA students that they will be given less marks for projects and assignments if they continue to support the struggle, etc. As a result, the campaign of the women hostellers has also been geared towards fighting rampant victimization.

Our struggle began when on 22 January, 2012 a six page document was pasted on various notice boards inside the hostel. The document was a copy of the Hostel Union Constitution drafted by the authorities in consultation with the hostel’s Managing Committee. While such a crucial piece of document can only be put into force after being passed by a two third majority of the hostel residents, who are the actual constituents of the union, no such procedure was followed in our hostel. To make matters worse, the hostel authorities tried to hold this year’s hostel union election on the basis of this imposed Constitution. While the authorities claim that they are implementing procedures followed during other student elections of Delhi University (such as DUSU, etc.), the structure of the Hostel Union Constitution reveals something very different. For example, the Constitution drafted by the authorities allows for the outgoing union president to continue on the new hostel union as an ex-officio member! Similarly, before the residents began challenging the authorities, the newly announced election criteria consisted of stipulations which seriously prevented the formation of a strong, independent students’ union. The new election criteria were an unhealthy combination of the stringent Lyngdoh committee stipulations, as well as certain disqualification criteria formulated by the authorities themselves.

A “valid” candidature was, hence, ascertained according to the Lyngdoh recommendations on age and attendance to a course, as well as the system of memos (i.e. the issuing of warning letters for the smallest breach of hostel rules—most of these rules being highly unpopular and contested). The receipt of 5 such memos was arbitrarily made a criterion for disqualification. It is only because the women students united to fight this imposition of a hostel union constitution that certain non-Lyngdoh election stipulations (like disqualification on the basis of memos issued and number of years of residence in the hostel, etc.) were taken back by the authorities. Unsatisfied with this partial victory, the women students have pursued their struggle because apart from the arbitrary introduction of Lyngdoh recommendations, the Constitution imposed by the authorities allows for extensive control of the hostel authorities on the union. Since the attempts of the authorities has been to minimize the autonomy and strength of the students’ union, the hostel residents collectively decided to submit a signature petition to the hostel Warden and Chairperson.

The second issue on which UHW residents have been campaigning is existing hostel rules. Most of the rules in force are those formulated way back when the hostel was started in 1970. The current residents in the hostel are challenging rules such as ‘no exit after 8:00pm’, submission of leave applications approved by Heads of Departments for more than one week’s absence from the hostel, the tedious procedure of gate pass and double-locking of rooms which does not exist in the men’s hostels, the limited number of late nights and nights out, closing off the canteen to visitors, etc. Many of these rules such as not being able to exit after 8pm are illogical, especially when we consider how the same authorities allow the residents entry up till 11:00pm under the late night provision. An archaic rule such as ‘no exit after 8pm’ prevents women students from stepping out for urgent work, or even something as simple as getting photocopies from the nearby market, Patel Chest.

However, apart from this, certain the rules (such as closing off the canteen to Miranda House and other college students and staff) have also worked towards making Chhatra Marg (where the hostel is situated) a more isolated place, and hence, unsafe. Certain other rules which are implemented solely in the women’s hostels, like the submission of leave applications approved by Heads of Departments for more than one week’s absence from the hostel, are being misused to such an extent that the women hostellers and department heads are unnecessarily burdened with additional paperwork. It is, in fact, shameful that adult women are being made to seek approval from their departments even for personal matters such their travel/vacation plans.

Of course, under the pressure of the ongoing struggle, the University has decided to implement, from the new academic session, certain changes in the rules prevalent in women’s hostels. However, since these adjustments were discussed and formalized without any consultation with women students, they continue to create hassles for the women hostellers. Indeed, apart from a few proposed changes, most of the rules stand the same. In fact, not only will tedious procedures like gate-pass, double locking of rooms and issuing of memos for the smallest breach of hostel rules persist, the University’s new administrative order also proposes a hostel fee hike. Understandably, the women hostellers continue to agitate and raise their democratic concerns.

Typically, the collective struggle of the students has been trivialized and demeaned in several ways. Students’ democratic methods like calling meetings, circulating signature petitions, etc. are constantly projected by the authorities as “illegal” activities that spread “disturbance” and “disharmony”. Basically, when we take the initiative to raise our opinions and discontent, our authorities only see “untoward” activity…OUR VOICE IS NOISE FOR THEM!

Furthermore, ever since the women hostellers have been voicing their democratic aspirations, the authorities have viciously gone after individual students in the bid to transform UHW residents into a captive mass which has no democratic voice. The logic behind the multiple techniques of victimization is the need for the hostel authorities to break the collective will of the students and to project their collective struggle as that of a few individuals. In order to break the collective will and efforts of the residents, the authorities have been threatening individual students to withdraw from the struggle, and have tried to project the students’ legitimate struggle as a smear campaign pursued by one or two students who have some mysterious “agenda”. The techniques of victimization used unhesitatingly so far, include: (i) vicious character assassination, (ii) phone calls to parents and departments, (iii) accosting individuals on the stand they have taken and refusing to cooperate with them regarding the smallest of procedural work within the hostel, (iv) denying extension of stay to M.Phil researchers, (v) bombarding the more active students with show cause notices on every alternate day, etc.

For many of us these victimization techniques are equivalent to the techniques embraced by the management of private companies seeking to break the collective voice of their employees. Considering our hostel Warden is a faculty member of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), it comes as no surprise to us that typical labour management formulas are being applied on us students. Haranguing individuals, involving the families of the protesters, threatening individuals with a series of show cause notices, applying multiple pressure on individuals by involving a not-so-neutral third party (in our case, the Proctor’s office, and in the case of workers, the Labour Office), etc. are very similar to the methods used by factory managers who seek to crush the collective voice of their employees. Using such labour management methods, the hostel authorities went out of their way to expose their unethical and undemocratic nature on two particular occasions. One such occasion was on 14th February when a large number of women hostellers boycotted dinner in protest. Rather than being concerned about the condition of the residents boycotting dinner, the hostel authorities ‘rewarded’ those who refused to support the campaign with an extra lavish dinner, and spent the entire day calling individual students to the office in order to force them to withdraw their support for the boycott.

The second occasion on which typical labour management techniques were unleashed on the hostel residents was on the 13th of March. On this day, members of the hostel’s Managing Committee, two Deputy Proctors, the Warden, Provost and Resident Tutor huddled into office to hold a Managing Committee meeting, as promised in writing. Ironically, rather than allowing the students to select and send their representatives to the meeting, the hostel Warden handpicked two students to represent the students’ point of view in the meeting called to ‘resolve’ the issues raised by the residents. As expected these students’ ‘representatives’ were not the more vocal of students, and were forced to compromise as they were outnumbered in the Managing Committee meeting, and were, in fact, locked into the office area during the course of the meeting. Disrespect for amicable dialogue and the strong desire to create a docile mass of women students are clearly reflected in such cases.

As the situation stands, individual victimization continues on a daily basis. For example, despite verbal assurances given by the Dean of Colleges, Prof. Pachauri, on the 16th of March, the hostel Provost has continued to contact supervisors and Heads of Departments. The hostel authorities also released a list on the 19th of March of M.Phil researchers who will not be provided an extension of stay, despite the precedent being that the hostel provides such extension in strongly recommended cases. The hostel authorities continue to run UHW as if it were their personal fiefdom. There really seems to be no way to check their authoritarian, undemocratic and unethical practices, unless the larger Delhi University community extends support to the women students.

WE, HENCE, APPEAL TO ALL CONCERNED UNIVERSITY MEMBERS AND ALUMNI OF UNIVERSITY HOSTEL FOR WOMEN (UHW) TO STAND WITH THE DEMOCRATIC ASPIRATIONS OF THE WOMEN STUDENTS, AND TO HELP PREVENT DELHI UNIVERSITY’S AUTHORITIES FROM REDUCING STUDENTS TO A VOICELESS, DOCILE MASS. In the larger context of the backlash against all democratic voices in this University, the ongoing struggle of women’s students emerges as a litmus test for democracy— do we as a University community want to create docile University youth, or right-bearing, politically conscious University youth?

Your contribution to this democratic struggle could consist of the following:

  1. Writing letters to the University’s Vice Chancellor that press for the prevention of individual victimization in its myriad forms, and for an amicable resolution to the issues raised by the students;
  2. Writing letters to the University’s Vice Chancellor and Dean of Colleges that press for the removal of the hostel Provost and Warden since the two continue to derail a healthy dialogue process by victimizing individual students;
  3. Writing letters to the media which highlight the sheer lack of tolerance for the democratic issues raised by the women students like the right to draft, amend and ratify their union constitution;
  4. Discussion with colleagues and other faculty members so as to create a public opinion against how women’s hostels are being run according to the diktats of an authoritarian and conservative set of DU faculty members;
  5. Build students’ resistance against de-unionization and conservative rules, as in UHW, in other DU hostels as well.

Issued by Residents of University Hostel for Women (UHW)

COORDINATION COMMITTEE FOR WOMEN’S HOSTELS IN DELHI UNIVERSITY Contact: 9350272637 (Maya), 9818900179 (Zainab)


15 Comments leave one →
  1. Manashi Misra permalink
    March 24, 2012 10:20 PM

    Thanks Maya for posting this. I am not too sure about the analogy of the private company’s technique to control labour movement though. At least in that case, workers’ campaigns would not be dismissed as some workers’ agenda for personal benefits, like it happened in the UHW case. For instance, the argument for extending the time limit for late night entry into the Hostel was interpreted as reflecting some residents’ intention to wander about in the night!!

  2. March 25, 2012 2:24 AM

    This is horrible. I had no idea even DU hostel could be in such bad shape! Why do we not treat our students as adults? It is also a social problem. It in only in our institutes that students, particularly women students face issues of rigid time-in and leave permission etc. And it is all supposedly to ensure women’s safety and security. Is the solution to keep women bound in such manner? And, why should women students have to have reasons like xerox or something? Why can’t they just want to stay outside for personal reasons, or with friends, boy friends or on their own? How will our students be critical thinkers, able citizens and professionals if they are not allowed to practice basic rights and freedoms, and challenge institutionalised restrictions and discriminations? And involving parents?! I would like to know the details of these. We as a society think that unless an individual is earning (enough, i might add) or is married, they are in some other “responsible adult’s” custody – parents, wardens, teachers. . . If there are issues of safety etc those need to be addressed in collaboration with women and in a gender-just manner. A university – including its hostels – has to be a space where societal norms and attitudes are critiqued, challenged, not reinforced in an undemocratic, authoritarian manner.

    • Zainab Razavi permalink
      March 25, 2012 12:36 PM

      Dear revs_y
      You voice our ‘claustrophobia’ very well. It is nauseatingly depressing and disgusting to be old enough for practically everything but not to ‘manage our safety’. Interestingly, our Chairperson (who is also the DU Proctor) Dr Usha Rao gave a statement in the Hindustan Times article yesterday where on one hand she says that the residents are all like her ‘children’ and in the next sentence says ‘let them live in flats’! I fail to understand how we can be asked to return by a said time at night or ‘stay out’, stay out of a room we are paying for! it is unjust as residents, as consumers, as women and as scholars.

      With regard to parents being involved, this has ranged from sending letters to parents saying their ward was absent the hostel without permission, to sending copies of show cause letters that their ward was presented with, to calling up a parent in front of the girl and saying that their ward shall be failed in her project (because the girl, and the provost are in the same dept and the provost is her project supervisor), to calling up a father and telling him that your daughter supports the protests because she wants to be out until 1 am! Of course when we told the VC this, he said ‘give me proof, hard evidence’!
      And so, the saga continues.

      Zainab

  3. Ram Sharma permalink
    March 25, 2012 6:56 AM

    How about parents’ input? I assume, a majority of students are financed by their parents, as in my student days. If I am not wrong, then parents’ opinion on this issue should be given due consideration. Normally a parent would be more concerned for welfare of his/her child than the University administration. In case most students work to finance their studies, then they deserve their independence, but the University should not be held responsible for their conduct and welface outside the campus. Freedom and responsible behavior must go together.

  4. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    March 25, 2012 9:32 AM

    This is a very old problem in Delhi University, and all other Indian universities, I’m sure. Women’s hostels reproduce the most oppressive features of the patriarchal family without offering any real security or safety, which is the ostensible reason for draconian restrictions on the freedom of adult women. When there are instances of sexual harassment, then the same authorities respond with even greater restrictions on the women’s mobility, exactly like the authoritarian patriarch. Often the excuse offered by authorities is that parents want these kinds of restrictions, but in fact this is simply assumed. What about parents who want no restrictions on the movements of their daughters because they have brought them up to be independent and responsible? Such women too must follow the rules of that hostel. After all, parents also want their children to have nutritious meals and salubrious living conditions, and these desires of parents are rarely taken into account by most hostels! Increasingly parents are sending their daughters to big cities for further study, even though there may be perfectly adequate facilities in their own towns and cities, and such parents can be assumed to have other kinds of desires for their daughters than simply preserving them for a good marriage. Parents will have to accept the rules of hostels, as they have to accept the courses of study of the university whether they agree with the ideas being propagated or not.
    It is not as if, when the check-in time is 11 pm, every woman hosteller will necessarily wander the streets till 11. Just as women who do not live in hostels do, they too, will only stay out late when they need to for whatever reason, and will organize safe transport back for themselves.
    Hostels are public institutions, even privately run ones, and must be made accountable to a larger public – the university community. It is not the business of the university and its associated institutions to aid in social reproduction of all the repressive features of the society in which they are located – quite the contrary. It is their responsibility – our responsibility – to challenge these features and to take on the job of showing how alternatives can work.
    It is a very small step indeed, to just start treating university students as the adult citizens they are, who vote for the government of this country, even if they are (only) women!

    • Zainab Razavi permalink
      March 25, 2012 12:47 PM

      Dear Nivedita,
      There is one small point I would like to add; why are we excluded from using university facilities like the Central Reference Library which is open until 12am just because we need to be back at a certain time? The hostel suffers from long electricity cuts especially during summer when the final exams are on, but the CRL has power. We suffer the heat and the anxiety simply because we cannot exit after 8 pm and must return by 11 (actually 10 pm according to the new set of rules that will be implemented from the next academic session). It clearly unfair.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        March 25, 2012 1:39 PM

        Absolutely unfair, Zainab! It’s appalling.

  5. Shoma Choudhury permalink
    March 25, 2012 12:05 PM

    PGW has always been repressive! The hostel authorities have always treated the hostel residents as juveniles, who cannot take their own decisions and who are always prone to ‘misusing’ the freedom that is given to them. It is sad that the mentality of the authorities have not changed even though the times have changed.

  6. March 25, 2012 7:25 PM

    On reading this post, one gets an idea that however unjustified and illogical the impositions from the authorities are, there is always a group of residents (whatever sized) who “don’t care” so much either about the nature of such rules or the protests. These residents too according to me are well within their rights to do so. Being a hostel resident at DU myself, I have noticed that it is through these complying/indifferent members that the authorities succeed in having their way. It is quite obvious that no institution can be absolutely persuaded to stand for or against a given idea. Doing that is the biggest challenge this campaign faces.
    In order to add teeth to the campaign and make it more audible to the authorities such a clearly written post definitely goes a long way. Apart from this I feel, there has to be a very very effective conversation and exchange of views within the residents in the hostel. A better unified group with a clearly set out ‘common agenda’ can definitely achieve a greater degree of success.

  7. Anju permalink
    March 26, 2012 12:23 AM

    I completely agree with Ms. Nivedita that hostels are an extension of the patriarchal family. It’s just another way to restrict women masquerading under the guise of ‘benevolent protection of ‘our’ daughters’. This, Gurgaon incident etc are all so unbelievably unfair. They’re practically blaming women’s mobility for getting raped. Maybe we could have a curfew for men and let the women roam out at night. Then we’ll see the furore.

  8. Jasmeet Brar permalink
    March 27, 2012 11:35 PM

    The patriarchal chains for women in our so called progressive universities are very much visible. Actually its the image of the society reflected in the universities. I congratulate you for initiating the struggle . In name of “safety” the freedom of women is chained. Total emancipation of women from such slavery is necessary to form a democratic environment .The Hostels should never be treated as mere night hide outs of women. The movement of women from kitchen to university under the name of upliftment is fake.Actually women are still in kitchen, their freedom is never addressed democratically.

  9. Gayatri Singh permalink
    March 29, 2012 2:42 PM

    Dear Zainab and Maya,
    Do you have an email address where people can send letters of support, especially those overseas, but who know all too well about such situations at Delhi University women’s residence halls? Any contact details of the university administrators to contact would also be useful. Even more helpful might be a link to an online petition that can reach out to a lot more people quite fast- I can tell you right now that there are many folks out there who would like to pledge support.
    Gayatri

  10. Zainab permalink
    April 16, 2012 11:36 PM

    PUBLIC MEETING
    on
    Conservative Rules in Women’s Hostels & the Attack on the Autonomy of Hostel Unions

    Speakers:
    Prof. P.K. Dutta,
    H.O.D, Political Science Dept., DU

    Dr. Shadab Bano
    Asst. Prof, Women’s College, AMU

    Dr. Bijayalaxmi Nanda
    Asst. Prof, Miranda House College, DU

    & Student Speakers from Women’s Hostels

    Date: 19th April (Thurs)
    Time: 1:45 pm onwards
    Venue: Activity Centre, Above Spic Macay Canteen, Arts Fac., North Campus

    Coordination Committee of Women’s Hostels, DU
    Contact: 9350272637, 9818900179, universityhostelforwomen@gmail.com

  11. viv permalink
    May 26, 2012 11:10 AM

    I would like to say certain things. Infact this is not the case with UHW only. this new trend is emerging in all of the hostels of DU. Residents are personally victimized for raising their voice against the wrong doings of administration. I myself attended two managing committee meetings during my tenure as the President of a reputed hostel of DU. And to tell you the truth all such meetings are just formalities to showcase the pseudoconcern of DU administration for the students. They outnumber us by a great margin and they behave so rudely that if you have smallest amount of fear in your heart you will surely give up. The only wayout is your strength. I had started a communication procedure among all the PG hostels of Delhi University but subsequent presidents could not assure the continuity. So i suggest that for all such issues you can not only make an appeal through such mediums but also you can write letters to Hostel Unions of other hostels as well.

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